A comparison of personality traits of gifted word learner and typical border collies

Abstract

While personality and cognition are distinct domains, some personality traits may affect the capacity for problem-solving. It was suggested that there is a positive association between the Playfulness trait and problem-solving performance in humans. Studies on giftedness (extremely good capacity in the case of a specific skill), typically aimed to reveal the genetic, experiential, and mental origins of such extreme inter-individual variation. We exploited recent findings on giftedness in a specific cognitive skill, object label learning, in dogs to explore the potential association between this exceptional skill and personality traits. We administered the Dog Personality Questionnaire to 21 gifted dog owners and compared the personality traits of their dogs to those of matched samples of 43 Hungarian and 101 Austrian typical dogs, i.e., dogs lacking this exceptional capacity. Since most Gifted Word Learner dogs are Border collies, we restricted our analysis to dogs of this breed. We hypothesized that the Gifted Word Learner dogs may show higher levels of Playfulness. As expected, we found that the gifted Border collies were rated as more playful than both the Hungarian and Austrian typical ones. Our results suggest that an extremely high level of Playfulness is associated with giftedness in a specific cognitive trait in dogs: the capacity to learn object verbal labels, thus opening new possibilities for comparative research on the relationship between giftedness and personality.

Playing it by ear: gregarious sparrows recognize and respond to isolated wingbeat sounds and predator-based cues

Abstract

The ability to detect an incoming attack provides a final opportunity for an animal to avoid predation. In birds, vision is the main sensory mode in detecting attacks, but auditory cues likely play an important role. The role of auditory cues from predators themselves remains largely unstudied. We evaluated the ability of free-living, gregarious sparrows (Passerellidae) to recognize attacks based on the non-vocal sounds made by predators or indirect auditory cues of ongoing attacks, mainly in the form of brief wingbeat sequences from predatory and non-predatory birds. Behavioral responses to playbacks were video-recorded and expressed in terms of a flock’s propensity to respond, either by flushing to cover, becoming vigilant, or both. Sparrows responded equally to hawk wingbeats and those of small passerines. Both predator and non-predator wingbeat sequences induced anti-predator responses, especially when played loudly. Loud control sounds, such as hammering, induced few responses. Birds also responded to the sounds of a walking and running terrestrial predator (a dog), but reactions to the walking predator often involved birds jumping onto objects for a better view of their surroundings rather than immediate flight to cover. In an additional experiment, we examined how characteristics of wingbeat sequences (i.e., the number and cadence of hawk wingbeats) affected passerine responses. It indicated that only two consecutive hawk wingbeats, presented at a natural cadence, are necessary to elicit a strong response to a playback. Single hawk wingbeats induced only weak escape responses, as did artificially slowed cadences. Birds in general likely possess the ability to recognize non-vocal, auditory cues of incoming attacks, which may be produced by approaching threats or departing congeners.

Social factors influence solo and rat dyads exploration of an unfamiliar open field

Abstract

Exploring new and unfamiliar environments is critical for survival, providing information on food, shelter, mates, and sources of danger. The open field paradigm is commonly used to study exploration and anxiety-like behaviors in the lab. Many social animals, like humans and rats, may explore their environments in social groups; however, relatively few studies have investigated the influence of conspecifics on open field activity. Here, we provide a comparison of individual (solo) or pairs of male rats (dyads) exploring and interacting across repeated exposures to an unfamiliar (Day 1) or more familiar (Day 2) open field. Both solo rats and dyads explored a larger area, traveled further, and spent less time near the maze walls on the second maze exposure. Solo rats explored a larger area and spent less time near the maze walls than dyads on both days because dyads spent more time socializing rather than exploring the environment. Furthermore, we compared familiar dyads that were co-housed for seven days versus stranger dyads that met for the first time in the open field. While familiar and stranger dyads did not differ in maze exploration, strangers spent more time interacting nose to nose than nose to anogenital. These results indicate that the degree of familiarity with the environment does not interact with the tendency of dyads to socialize rather than explore the environment.

Poison frog social behaviour under global change: potential impacts and future challenges

Abstract

The current and cascading effects of global change challenges the interactions both between animal individuals (i.e. social and sexual behaviour) and the environment they inhabit. Amphibians are an ecologically diverse class with a wide range of social and sexual behaviours, making them a compelling model to understand the potential adaptations of animals faced with the effects of human-induced rapid environmental changes (HIREC). Poison frogs (Dendrobatoidea) are a particularly interesting system, as they display diverse social behaviours that are shaped by conspecific and environmental interactions, thus offering a tractable system to investigate how closely related species may respond to the impacts of HIREC. Here, we discuss the potential impacts of global change on poison frog behaviour, and the future challenges this group may face in response to such change. We pay special attention to parental care and territoriality, which are emblematic of this clade, and consider how different species may flexibly respond and adapt to increasingly frequent and diverse anthropogenic stress. More specifically, we hypothesise that some parents may increase care (i.e. clutch attendance and distance travelled for tadpole transport) in HIREC scenarios and that species with more generalist oviposition and tadpole deposition behaviours may fare more positively than their less flexible counterparts; we predict that the latter may either face increased competition for resources limited by HIREC or will be forced to adapt and expand their natural preferences. Likewise, we hypothesise that human-driven habitat alteration will disrupt the acoustic and visual communication systems due to increased noise pollution and/or changes in the surrounding light environment. We highlight the need for more empirical research combining behavioural ecology and conservation to better predict species’ vulnerability to global change and efficiently focus conservation efforts.

Both sheep and goats can solve inferential by exclusion tasks

Abstract

Despite the domestication of sheep and goats by humans for several millennia, we still lack comparative data on their cognitive capacity. Comparing the cognitive skills of farm animals can help understand the evolution of cognition. In this study, we compared the performances of sheep and goats in inference by exclusion tasks. We implemented two tasks, namely a cup task and a tube task, to identify whether success in solving the task could be attributed to either low-level mechanisms (avoiding the empty location strategy) or to deductive reasoning (if two possibilities A and B, but not A, then it must be B). In contrast to a previous study comparing goats and sheep in a cup task, we showed that both species solved the inferential condition with high success rates. In the tube task, performances could not be explained by alternative strategies such as avoiding the empty tube or preferring the bent tube. When applying a strict set of criteria concerning responses in all conditions and controlling for the potential effects of experience, we demonstrate that two individuals, a goat and a sheep, fulfil these criteria. This suggests that sheep and goats are able to make inferences based on deductive reasoning.

Equivalence classification, learning by exclusion, and long-term memory in pinnipeds: cognitive mechanisms demonstrated through research with subjects under human care and in the field

Abstract

Comparative cognition, as an interdisciplinary field, should utilize a holistic approach for studying cognitive mechanisms. We suggest that research with species of interest should employ both work with animals under human care and in the field. This complimentary approach allows for a better understanding of functional cognitive mechanisms themselves (i.e., comparative cognition regarding processes), and how these skill sets can relate to a particular species’ ecological niche. We suggest that research evidence for equivalence classification, learning by exclusion, and long-term memory in pinnipeds can provide a foundation for discussion and implementation of a two-pronged methodological approach utilizing ‘lab’ and field’ work. First, we describe evidence from research with pinnipeds under human care supporting each of these cognitive abilities, then follow this with evidence for implications of these mechanisms from complimentary field research. Lastly, we provide a brief discussion of implementation of a purposeful and two-pronged research approach as an understanding of pinnipeds’ high levels of cognitive flexibility may underlie their success for navigating the ever-changing, and often human-altered, natural environment.